Pistols Perfected


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice

When it comes to side arms, there may be few companies with a broader legacy than Beretta, an Italian manufacturer.
The company’s Beretta M9 (the military designation for its 92FS pistol) has been used by the U.S. military for almost 25 years. In that time, Beretta has delivered 540,000 M9s to the U.S. armed forces and to foreign military customers worldwide, including U.S. allies such as Kuwait, Iraq, Colombia, Panama and other countries throughout the Caribbean. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to call this system established.
Yet, Gabriele de Plano, vice president of military sales and marketing for Beretta USA Corp., in Accokeek, Md., said the company—through its subsidiaries such as Benelli Armi S.p.A., Steiner Optics, and SAKO—is a lot more than just the M9. It has the 5.56 Assault Rifle ARX160, the GLX 160 Grenade Launcher, SAKO TRG 22/42 sniper rifle systems, Steiner binoculars and now, military scopes and the Benelli combat shotguns.
“Besides the Beretta M9 pistol, we offer a lot more,” de Plano said. “We’re starting to focus our energies on getting the message out that Beretta is a lot more than the M9 pistol—we have everything from assault rifles to less-than-lethal systems.”
Talking to some side arms manufacturers, Beretta isn’t alone. The side arms business is still a good business, but there seems to be a lot more product development potential right now in larger systems. That doesn’t mean companies such as Beretta or Sig Sauer aren’t making tweaks to their product lines. And if the Army publishes a request for information on new systems, some more innovations could ultimately be coming down the line.
Other Initiatives
Beretta is focused on larger systems because that’s what de Plano says the services will be eyeing. “Their focus will be on shoulder fired weapons—the assault rifles, the sub machine guns, the sub-compact carbines and the sniper rifle,” he said. “I think that’s where they’ll focus their innovations and energies … because the side arm is something the warfighter rarely has to use.”
With its alliances through its sister firms, de Plano thinks Beretta has put itself on course to meet these needs. “We see the future development in the larger weapon systems,” de Plano said. “We see a lot of opportunities to integrate optics, electronic systems and the power source. There are also a lot of improvements we can [initiate] to make the systems more modular, so that multiple calibers can be used in a single platform. The Beretta group has access to at least four top-of- the-line R&D facilities. If there is a small arms system requirement, we have the resources and know-how to address it.”
And the side arm’s size and use makes it tough to improve. “The side arms are a little more challenging because of the size. They have to be portable and with you at all times. They are primarily last-ditch weapons,” de Plano said. “When you have to use them, they can only do so much because, by their nature, they are limited by size, weight and ammunition.”
Bud Fini, vice president of marketing at Sig Sauer in Exeter, N.H., said his company’s rifles are undergoing a lot more changes than its side arms, especially in the wake of campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The standard M16 has been used for well over 50 years, but the gun’s system, which dumped fouling residue into the action so the firearm could function, required more cleaning than the military liked in desert conditions. So Sig tried to fix that.
“The Sig system that we developed for the 5.56 rifle dumps the gas a different way and uses a push rod to push the bolt carrier instead of dumping gas into the carrier,” Fini said. “The gun can run many more rounds without requiring maintenance or cleaning, even if you build up some carbon in the bolt and carrier, you can adjust the gas valve to the adverse position and keep the gun functioning in a critical combat situation until it can be cleaned.”
Heckler & Koch
If a major new competition opens for military pistol makers, Heckler & Koch has a multipronged argument about why the government should choose H&K pistols, Dale Bohner, director of government sales, said.
  • H&K has multiple pistols to offer, including two models of the .45 caliber, and 9 mm weapons as well.
  • The company offers multiple types of interchangeable side-panel grips and back straps that customize the pistol to the shooter’s hand, providing a firm and comfortable hold.
  • In an era of tight defense budgets, H&K would offer a price that would be tough to beat.
In any competition, H&K could provide a pistol with the performance that procurement officials desire, Bohner said.
“If it’s open on caliber, if they go for a .45, we would be proposing the HK45 compact and the HK45 full size,” he explained. On the other hand, if acquisition officials desire a 9 mm weapon, “We have the P30s in various configurations, and then we also have the P2000s, including the P2000 subcompact.”
When it comes to stopping power and ability to take down an enemy, “it becomes a very touchy subject. Everyone focuses on .45s” and their impact on the enemy, Bohner said.
As for the ability to aim the weapon, “all of our .45s are known to be very accurate guns,” he said. “The recoil of our guns is a lot easier to control on our .45s.”
Another advantage in H&K pistols is the ability to customize them for a better fit to the shooter’s hand, Bohner said. For any military person, “from the biggest, meanest, ugliest brute guy … to the smallest, tiniest person that’s in the military,” H&K can adjust the gun to fit their hands. There are multiple combinations and permutations, because there are several different-size side panel grips, different palm swells on either side of the pistol, and three or four varying back plates that can be interchanged, he said.
“It’s almost custom-fitted for your hand,” he said. “That’s a huge advantage of our P30.”
And that solid comfort in the grip benefits all shooters, whether they go to the range and fire the weapon four times or 100 times a year, he observed.
There also are trigger variants, he continued, “whether you have a decocker, or a decocker and a safety, or an ambidextrous decocker, or an ambidextrous decocker and safety, or right-side-only lever or left-side-only lever. You can interchange a lot of things about our trigger system.”
While emphasizing the ways H&K pistols are different and better, Bohner also stressed how in some ways they are little different from others, and that’s a good thing.
“What most of the military has been firing right now is the Beretta-type system, or even a Sig Sauer,” he said, in a double-action or single-action arrangement.
“We can provide our pistol in … the same exact setup,” he said. That means there is little or nothing for personnel to learn if the military switches from current pistols to H&K weapons. “There’s no change for them, they’re not [having to learn] anything new. So it’s an easy transition from the current pistol that’s in service.”
Both firing the new weapon and training with it would, therefore, be a smooth transition for personnel, he asserted. And there would be only minor differences in assembly/disassembly of the pistol. He noted that H&K manufactures the .45 and .45 subcompact in the United States. In any competition, price-wise, “those two guns would be very, very competitive,” Bohner promised.
And in tight budget times, that is a major plus for H&K, he said. For procurement officials, the cost consideration “may not be number one” in the criteria for selecting a new pistol to procure, “but it sure is right up there near the top,” Bohner said.
New Weapons Sought
With rumors of a new request for proposals, the Army could put some focus back on side arms. In late 2006, the Air Force requested information on modular handgun systems (MHS). Eventually, the service scuttled the plans, telling manufacturers that the service’s higher-ups felt the M9 was good enough to fit its needs. It’s a good thing Beretta didn’t throw away its ideas for an MHS, because de Plano said the Army is planning to release a request for proposals on a new weapon to complement or compete with the M9.
“In the new solicitation that we’re told they’re working on, caliber is not mandated, performance is,” de Plano explained. “They’re leaving it up to industry to figure out which caliber will achieve this performance. We haven’t seen the requirement because it hasn’t been released yet.”
The service would like more lethality from its side arms, according to de Plano. “When the country is at war, there are people who believe that the 9 mm isn’t doing the job in terms of stopping the enemy,” he continued. “They’re looking for something with more energy and more terminal ballistics to improve on the M9 system’s performance.”
There are types of ammunition, included those produced by Minneapolis-based ATK, that could fit those needs with the M9. “An option we have suggested is that the M9 pistol with enhanced lethality munitions could definitely be a solution to their needs,” de Plano said. “Because of some of the conventions that the U.S. forces are abiding by, they’re not able to use the hollow points that law enforcement uses, but there is other ammo that meets the [requirement] of the full metal case with increased performance.”
Regardless, de Plano said Beretta doesn’t want to lose the side arms business from the military. “Obviously, being the incumbent, we’re going to put up a good fight. We already have the 92A1 and 96A1 improved models in the commercial and LE markets,” he cautioned. “These pistols require no additional training, have 90 percent parts commonality with the M9, and add new capabilities for the soldier. We’ll see what the final requirements are. Changing caliber could also be an option. One of the suggestions is going to the .40 Smith & Wesson caliber, and the Model 96A1 is chambered for this option.”
Right now, Beretta also produces .40 and .45 caliber Px4 Storm pistols, in addition to its M9. “We had a .45 caliber pistol ready for that [Air Force] competition and obviously we can represent that in a .45 or .40,” de Plano said. “I’m told the .40 is getting attention now as a possibility to improve the performance, compared to the 9 mm.”
There are some advantages to the caliber, which de Plano sees a good compromise between the 9 mm and .45 caliber. “The .45 is a longtime favorite—everybody likes the performance but few people can shoot it well,” de Plano said. “The terminal performance of the .40 is very good. It does the job and it is not as hard to control as the .45. People are able to shoot it more easily, but it gives more [punch] at the target.”
Right now, many U.S. law enforcement agencies use the .40 caliber. “They swear by it,” de Plano said. “Whether the U.S. military will be able to adopt another caliber in its logistics systems, who knows? They do not have the same freedom in ammunition selection as law enforcement.”
Expanding Product Offerings
Right now, the manufacturers have distinct, well-established side arm offerings for the military. Beretta produces the Px4 Storm Pistol series, which is a polymer frame pistol. The company touts the pistol’s 17-round 9 mm flush magazine. It provides what it says is “exceptional” magazine capacity, but it can even be expanded to 20 rounds using the optional extension.
Beretta says that the Px4 Storm has fired up to 150,000 rounds in shooting ranges without any parts breakage, while it has a barrel that dissipates recoil energy in a radial direction. It is designed to reduce recoil and muzzle rise, giving the user more control and, ultimately, more accuracy, when the side arm is fired.
The Storm comes in sub-compact, compact and special duty models. It offers a traditional Type F system (which is on the Beretta 92FS/M9 pistol) that has a single/double action with an ambidextrous manual safety on the slide, which also acts as a de-cocking lever. Beretta also offers a Type C (constant action) system that is a double action-only variant but with a shorter trigger travel and lighter trigger pull than conventional DAO trigger mechanisms. It has no external safety/de-cocking lever.
Beretta also produces its old standby 92 series of semiautomatic pistols. They operate on a short recoil, delayed blowback system, which yields faster cycle times, exceptional accuracy and greater reliability, according to the company. They have double/single action, high-capacity steel magazines that the company says are durable and drop-free when the magazine button is depressed, even when empty. They also produce chrome-lined barrels to provide corrosion resistance, as well as ease of cleaning.
In 2010, Beretta did add new weapons to its family with its Model 92A1 and 96A1 pistol in 9 mm. The company says these provide increased capacity magazines (with 17-round capacity, three included per pistol), removable front sight, accessory rail, captive recoil spring assembly, rounded trigger guard and frame recoil buffer.
Sig Sauer also offers a line of all-metal weapons that it says offers increased durability, accuracy and simplicity. “Some of the polymer guns are simple but they don’t carry that safety—that four-point safety system that we have is unattainable in a Glock because you pull the trigger and it shoots.” Fini said. “It doesn’t have the safety systems or the de-locking systems that we have built in.”
Fini said Sig Sauer’s features, including a four-point safety system, make his products popular with law enforcement. He counts many government agencies, such as the FBI, CIA, Secret Service and Navy Seals among his customers. He said most tactical law enforcement units carry the Sig Sauer as well.
Sig Sauer’s biggest sellers have been from its classic series— the P220, P226, P229 and P239. Their newest offering is the P226 TACOPS, short for tactical operations. The P226 TACOPS, available in 9 mm and .40 caliber S&W, features integral magwell grips and extended magazines for additional capacity. The lightweight beavertail frame is machined from aircraft grade aluminum and hard coat anodized for increased durability. “The TACOPS includes a number of enhancements based on feedback from users in the field,” Fini said.
Sig Sauer’s P226 Navy model provides strong anti-corrosion protection with a phosphate coating on all of the internal parts. “The U.S. Navy adopted it, in part, because of its corrosion resistance,” Fini said.
Sig Sauer continues to tweak its premier Elite line as well. Last year it conducted surveys and found the guns had, over time, developed a perception of being too large for many users. Fini thinks the reason for this is the emphasis in recent years on ergonomics, and the growing awareness that proper fit improves shooter performance. The company fixed that.
“We redesigned the total grip ergonomics for multiple hand sizes. When combined with two trigger length options, the user can fit the gun to their individual hand size.” Fini said. “It really gives you a [totally] different grip feel for the gun.”
These upgrades prove that though bigger weapons may be on the minds of manufacturers, companies are still looking at how to make their side arms even better.
I wish the US Military would get with the program on this, GLOCK… Same platform with same controls available in multiple calibers and one of the easiest, if not the easiest pistol to train people to use. Runs dirty, runs in all environments, wet-sandy-gunked with carbon and still performs better. ONE trigger action to learn! Easy to point! Easy to strip clean! Doesn’t need special attention, replacement parts and has an excellent track record over the last 25 years. If I was going to assault Mars and I had to bet my life on one pistol as a last line of defense it would be a Glock…
Can't argue too much with that, especially since it's already in theater.

I'd love to know how many NDs happen over there as a result of having to pull the trigger to strip the gun, though.
I'm not a fan of a DA/ SA trigger. I'd rather have a Glock/ M&P/ whatever else fits the bill or a 1911 than a DA/ SA trigger pull. Considering that units with the funding to purchase whatever they want gravitate to a Glock or 1911 and away from the Beretta.....
I'm not a fan of a DA/ SA trigger. I'd rather have a Glock/ M&P/ whatever else fits the bill or a 1911 than a DA/ SA trigger pull. Considering that units with the funding to purchase whatever they want gravitate to a Glock or 1911 and away from the Beretta.....

Agreed. The DA/SA issue and the counter-intuitive design of the M9's thumb safety are just some of its flaws, as I see it. I also agree with you that it's telling that units with discretionary spending authority choose 1911s.

It is much easier to teach someone to shoot a Glock, M&P, or 1911 well than that POS M9.
The Sig or the 1911? I love my 1911 but I also enjoy my CZ-75. Glocks are super dependable and I do like the standardization as previously mentioned, but I don't enjoy shooting them. Perhaps that's not really one of the criteria, but for me that matters. I feel like I am shooting a brick of plastic instead of a special purpose tool. But then again, my opinion doesn't matter much LOL. I haven't ever shot an HK but I have been eyeballing a few USPs lately...
I prefer the 226 but like the Glock also. What ever they buy it will likely all be for naught. If your anything like us the majority of the people issued pistols are more of a liability to the weapon functioning and the safety of others than the worlds cheapest manufacturing.
I really want to love the Berretta offerings! 92, 92F, 92 F/S the G's the M-9, M-9A1, heck even the the 90-2. The legacy of Beretta is unparalleled. I however was blessed at 6'3", with the hands of a twelve year old girl..... For me the Glock's sans stocks or the Sig E-2 grip modification is the way to go in a battle pistol.
Love the H&K performance as well! However for me, same issue. The Smith M&P line feels magical but I do not care for the very vague trigger and diminished tactile reset. Just my $.02 worth.